Despite sitting out an all of last season with an injury to his throwing shoulder, University of Regina Rams veteran quarterback, Marc Mueller, is showing few signs of rust.
“He’s getting the ball out, and he’s getting the ball out with some velocity,” said Rams head coach Frank McCrystal.
“He’s taken some hits, and [the injury] hasn’t been a factor.”
That’s a good sign for McCrystal and the Rams, whose offense relies heavily on the fifth-year pivot.
“He’s going to be [averaging] right around 300 yards in a game,” McCrystal said.
“We’re trying to keep those interceptions down, and touchdowns up. He’s an important part, and our offensive line has managed to give him some time.”
But just as Mueller starts to regain his form, the injury bug has claimed one of his favourite targets in Mark McConkey.
The fifth-year wide receiver – who had 12 catches in his only game of the season vs. the Calgary Dinos – tore his MCL during a practice following the team’s first game.
“That’s a huge thing, losing McConkey,” McCrystal said. “Not only does he bring some great skill and understanding to our game, but he’s incredibly tough.
“He’s a huge part of who we are and what we are, and you know, you’re just hopeful that the others are able to step in and take up part of what he does for us.”
To fill the gaping receiving hole left by McConkey’s absence, the rest of the team’s offense will have to come together in a big way.
“I don’t think any of them bring all of the things that [McConkey] has to offer to the team and the offense,” said McCrystal, who is entering his 14th season as a CIS coach. “But certainly collectively, if we manage it right, I think that we’ll be alright.”
The head coach’s assumptions proved to be spot on when the Rams went head to head with a struggling University of Alberta squad on Sept. 14.
The U of A Golden Bears (0-2) brought a surprising effort to their game against the Rams, but in the end it proved no match for Mueller’s run-and-gun offensive prowess.
Through their first two games of the season – against the U of S Huskies and U of C Dinos – the Bears recorded just six points, and couldn’t even manage a touchdown.
“[Marc Mueller's] getting the ball out, and he’s getting the ball out with some velocity. He’s taken some hits, and [the injury] hasn’t been a factor.” – Frank McCrystal
When Alberta did finally manage to find the end zone midway through the second quarter of Friday night’s contest against the Rams, their sidelines erupted like they’d just secured a berth in the Vanier Cup.
But the good times would not last.
What was a close and competitive game for three quarters got blown wide open in the fourth when Mueller decided it was time to turn up the heat.
Three fourth-quarter TD’s turned a 10-10 tie into another Rams rout.
Final score: 31-17 Rams.
The absence of McConkey proved to be a moot point, as Mueller found a wide range of open receivers to reel in his perfectly crisp passes throughout the night.
Receivers Kolten Solomon, Catlin Schneider, and Ty Buhler all recorded multiple catches, while slotbacks Jared Janotta, Connor Haas and Jay Smith also pitched in with multiple receptions.
Through four quarters of football, only one pass was dropped.
Mueller finished the game with 316 passing yards, connecting on 26 of 38 attempts. Second-year running back Michael Kiapway had another huge game netting 124 yards on 24 carries.
Half back Kirby Kezama had a memorable night as well.
The fifth-year veteran found himself filling in as place-kicker for the first time in his CIS career due to injuries to both Chris Bodnar and Taylor Wandler.
Kezama hit one of two field goal attempts, connected on all four point-after-attempts and intercepted the ball twice in the fourth quarter.
The game-changing performance didn’t go unnoticed by the Rams official Twitter account.
“In the span of four plays, Kezama had a successful PAT, a 62-yard kickoff and an interception #jackofalltrades,” the Rams tweeted.
With their second blowout victory in as many weeks, the Rams improve to 2-1, and find themselves in a tie for second place in the Canada West standings.
While his team may be on a roll, McCrystal knows not to take anybody in this league for granted.
“It’s Canwest, so it’s tough,” he said. “Our hope is to get us to a place where we have Calgary at home and we’re playing Calgary for first place, but that’s a long way to go…We’re in Saskatoon next weekend, and then we host always a big tough team in Manitoba at the end of the month.”